Windows: Official client of the cloud

March 20, 2009 3:51 PM EDT

When I spoke recently with Microsoft's go-to R&D guy, chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie, he made one thing perfectly clear: He doesn't buy the argument that cloud computing is making Windows irrelevant.

While it's true that most Web apps these days are write once, run anywhere -- they'll run on any standards-compliant browser running on any platform -- there's more to it than that, and he expects Windows to have a strong foothold in both sides of a future world he describes as the "client and the cloud."

The operating system, he said during a wide-ranging Interview on Microsoft's R&D efforts, "will be the thing that creates the mapping between the physics of the computing environment and our ability to write these applications and portray them for people." Microsoft aims to be the operating system of choice on the computers that power the cloud and that run on the client devices that attach to it.

The response keyed off a similar question put to Mundie last year during his keynote speech at MIT's Emtech08 conference last September.

"People who say that the operating system will be irrelevant miss it in two different dimensions. Computers are getting wildy more complicated. The average programmer demands that the abstractions of operating system get higher and higher. There will be more of them not less of them." Windows will provide those higher levels of abstractions to programmers.

Secondly, Mundie said, no one chooses an operating system anymore. "Today even in our products most people don't choose Windows. They choose the applications. They choose Office and Office comes with Windows or the Mac. Clearly the platform is important because it becomes a way of qualifying what applications are available to you. But it's the killer apps people are choosing, not the OS, or other infrastructural elements."

For Windows to maintain its dominance then, Microsoft will need to own those killer apps in the era of the client and the cloud. Mundie hints at what those killer apps might be in the Q&A interview.